Thursday, 20 February 2014

North, South Korean families reunite after years

Zee Media Bureau

Seoul: Hundreds of South Koreans on Thursday arrived at the North Korean border to meet their close family members separated by the Korean War for the much-awaited six-day family reunions which begins Thursday. 
The two Koreas last week agreed to go ahead with planned reunions of their families despite a dispute over upcoming US-South Korean military drills. 

Highly emotional reunions of long-separated families haven't been held in three years. 

The agreements reflect recent attempts by the rival Koreas to ease animosity. Analysts, however, say ties could quickly sour again because the countries may disagree over how to implement the arrangement. 

Authoritarian North Korea, for instance, is demanding that the South Korean government control media reports critical of the North's leadership, something democratic Seoul has said it cannot do. 

A year after repeatedly threatening nuclear war and vowing to bolster its atomic capability, North Korea has recently pushed for better ties with Seoul, agreeing to arrange reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. Analysts say the impoverished North needs good relations with Seoul to win outside investment and aid. 

But the country is still sending mixed signals. It earlier threatened to stop the family reunions set for February 20-25 in protest of US-South Korean military drills scheduled to start later this month. 

A U.S. research institute said recently that North Korea has accelerated work at a site used for three previous underground nuclear test explosions, though a new test doesn't appear imminent.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warmly welcomed the agreement, calling it "a step in the right direction," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. 

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, was "particularly encouraged" that the agreement followed his appeal to Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state, at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia "to show flexibility and to decouple humanitarian matters, such as family reunions, from political and security matters," Nesirky said. 

North Korea has a track record of launching surprise provocations and scrapping cooperation projects with South Korea when it fails to win concessions. It cancelled family reunions at the last minute in September when it accused Seoul of preparing war drills and other hostile acts.

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